Namaskar Y'all - 2017


Myths of Motherhood

By Shyama Parui

It's getting close to Father's Day, but I am still feeling pretty special. I can think of a million reasons to celebrate Mother's Day, in ways that don't require gifts or cards. Every day would be a good excuse to celebrate me, I mean, mothers.

My reasons, however, may be very different. As much as I love my mother and value the privilege of being a mother, I resist the over-glorification of motherhood through prevalent myths or misconceptions. In my opinion, these ancient or newly created myths may give women the wrong idea, even before they step into motherhood. Mothers at different points in their journey may find themselves inadequate, when compared to the image of ideal mothers. What is considered ideal varies by culture, but here are a few myths that have shaped or possibly misshaped my concept of motherhood.

Myth 1 – Life after labor is painless.

When I was expecting my first child, I was equal parts excited and nervous about everything. Going through labor, gestation's grand finale, was intimidating but I knew I had to cross that bridge to make my debut as a Mom. Since my husband was as ignorant as I was, having my mother by my side was a boon. She kept assuring me that I would be free of pain, the moment I set my eyes on my child. Overpowered by contractions, I tossed rationale aside and believed Maa's comforting thoughts. Finally, after eleven hours of labor, I was able to hold my child and the feelings are still indescribable. I remember the sense of immense joy, but parenting is hardly pain free. Did my mother lie to me? Well, that may not have been her intention, because she was fearless. Unable to get to the hospital on time, she had delivered her fourth child, my sister, at home with the help of my aunt, who was only a teenager at the time. A feat I could never accomplish!

Myth 2 - Moms are superhuman.

Superheroes are popular, but please save me from the image of “Super Momma", wearing an absurd costume with a cape around her neck, baby strapped on her back, wielding a weapon of some sort. Admittedly I, like other mothers, have acquired a multitude of skills as I raise my kids. Over the years, I have become an expert juggler (of duties), learned to survive with minimal sleep, sharpened my reflexes and can generate the most creative solutions to resolve everything from bellyaches to bickering matches between siblings. During my childhood, I watched Maa, whip up “alur dom" (potato curry) and “luchis" (deep fried bread) at a speed that cannot be matched by the fastest kitchen machines. Adding super powers to this mix sounds exhausting. I long for more “normal" achievements that lead to simple rewards such as rest, praise, and gratitude.

Myth 3 – Mothers find joy in everything

Calm mothers with infinite patience only exist in works of fiction. My kids may have wondered why their mother does not sound like the mothers in children's shows such as Caillou and Arthur. Actress Reema Lagoo, who recently passed away, will always be remembered for playing the lovable, ever-smiling mother to Salman Khan in the Hindi movie, Maine Pyar Kiya. As desirable as it is, finding perpetual joy is unrealistic. If we are mostly happy, we can surmise that our experience as parents is positive. Thankfully, we as a society have started to recognize that. A case in point is the commercial for “Chatbook" - a photobook app. When you see the harried mother, you are sure to see yourself or someone you know looking very much like the Chatbook Mom.

Myth 4 – Mothers personify self-sacrifice.

In India, the mothers from Hindu epics are considered to be role models. Kunti, Gandhari, and Sita have always been revered for their ability to give up their own dreams in order to fulfill the needs of their family. Kunti and Sita lived in exile away from the comforts of their palaces, that too, without complaints. Gandhari even blindfolded herself to be just like her blind husband. Bollywood's popular movies also continue to portray mothers as pious if they are completely selfless and as callous if they are remotely interested in themselves. The truth is, mere humans like me need to be a tiny bit selfish in order to survive. My goal, as a mother, is to teach my children to be self-sufficient rather than do everything for them. If they are to be competent adults, they will be better prepared if I am honest with them, if I give them responsibilities, hold them accountable and say “no" from time to time. In my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong in taking care of yourself before you meet the endless demands of your family. As a parent, being a guide, partner, coach, and cheerleader to your child is more valuable than being an unpaid service provider.

Myth 5 – Moms are the Queens of DIY

Waiting to check out at the grocery store, I found my attention wandering to the magazines available for sale. Among them were a few parenting magazines that had advice on “How to" plan the family getaway, spark creativity in children, bake better cookies, potty- train your child in a week, (is that even possible?) or plan the perfect playdate. Certainly, not the typical DIY that involves power tools and ladders! Nonetheless, I glanced through some of the magazine recommendations, and I was overwhelmed by the idea that I could do so much more. I felt like I had been watering a plant with a spoonful of water when it really needed a cup. My own misgivings as a parent surged, so I decided to ignore the magazines and proceed to check out.

Being a mother has taught me so much and filled my life with delightful experiences. And for that reason, I reject the myths and stereotypes that limit the rewards that come from parenting. As a mother, I absolutely want to be an instrument of my children's success. I also want to save some energy to watch them become successful.